As a small part of a greater effort to celebrate agricultural and the rural lifestyle that constitutes the backbone of this community, we’ve launched the new Campbell County Fair Clover Kids campaign (CCFCloverKids), where friends, family, and the community of Gillette and Campbell County are introduced to local 4H’ers and invited to follow along as they train their livestock and prepare their projects for the Campbell County Fair 2019, beginning July 26 through Aug. 4.

The Flock

The sheep were hungry. After their morning practice sessions with the Gray siblings, they bleated and bayed in the nearby pen while 15-year-old Carl and younger sister, 13-year-old Stephanie, measured their food based on the weight of each of the eight sheep. Younger brother Clyde, 11, meanwhile, slipped inside the house to feed himself.

The kids, who had been up since 6 a.m. on a typical Monday summer morning, were getting a bit of a late start, they said, due to the unseasonably cold morning at the family’s home off Austin Drive, 11 miles north of Gillette. Two weeks into June, the siblings have about two months left to get their lambs ready for the Campbell County Fair.

Right now, they’re trying to fatten them up. At just under a year, the eight sheep are weighing in at about 100 pounds apiece. You feed the sheep 3 percent of their body weight, Carl explained, as he dumped a scoopful of sweet feed into a large bucket in his sister’s hand. Stephanie added the alfalfa pellets and corn before she mixed it all up – on her mom Lynne’s prompting – and headed over to the pen.

The sheep were happy to see her.

Bleating as they jumped over one another and jockeyed for a spot at the two feeding troughs, they were not interested in their handlers as they chowed down.

The Gray kids have been competing in the sheep contests at both county and state fair for the past five years. Right now, their focus is on fattening the lambs to meet the four criteria for showmanship, namely fat loin, big square butt, squat feet and big puffy limbs. The kids are also competing in other 4-H events like shooting and static sports, so they’re busy this time of year. This morning, it’s all about the sheep.

With names like Chex Mix, Muddy Buddy, and Dick and Jane, their sheep are a non-fancy mixture of speckled, black and white faces, and already all three kids have isolated their showmanship lamb and have been haltering them and working on getting them set up for the judges.

While the older Gray siblings have a more pragmatic working relationship with their animals, Clyde is all hugs, nuzzling his lamb in between feedings, who was happy to pause in her feeding for a little love.

“He’s the lover in the family,” mom Lynne said, noting that he has a knack for picking calm and passive animals that fit his personality. For his part, Clyde likes the sheep, but loves the money more.

Last year, he brought home roughly $700, after paying off his investment in both lambs and food. In the auction, sheep typically net about $5 a pound with the sheep weighing anywhere from 100-140 pounds. Deduct from that the cost of feeding them for about four months and the cost of the animal itself, which runs around $180 each.

And though the kids enjoy playing with the sheep and give them names, they are comfortably distant when it comes to knowing that those very animals will wind up on someone’s plate.

“We don’t get too attached,” Carl explained.

Coming from an agricultural background, with both parents hailing from the Wyoming ag world, the kids have learned how the business works by taking part in both the economics and caretaking end. They’re old-school, Lynne explained, buying their feed from their grandfather in Pine Bluffs, who runs a feedlot, and using their dad’s old fitting stand for sheering them prior to fair as well as the big heavy scale inherited from their grandfather.

“We want them to understand how the industry works,” Lynne said, should they care to become involved down the road.

So far, none of them has expressed an interest, but given their long list of activities and sports, like most ordinary teenagers, their attention is currently divided by any number of things that make long-term career choices a bit difficult to pin down. For now, Carl thinks he wants to be a vet, while Stephanie would like to be a physical therapist and part-time photographer. Clyde, meanwhile, really likes dogs – including their 10-year-old Australian Shephard Socks – who gets chased around by the sheep and equally coddled by the siblings, who all vied for his attention as they finished up their morning livestock chores.

See the Grays and their sheep at the  Campbell County Fair Youth Sheep Show Thursday, Aug. 1 at 8 a.m. at the CAM-PLEX East Pavilion.


Cricket Ruby Rides

Last year, Rooster was a bit sassy, Cricket Ruby explained, so they’re working on his manners. In last summer’s Campbell County Fair 4-H competition, Rooster, her 15-year-old pony, tried to ignore her, among other poor showmanship behaviors, so the pair have been spending a lot of time lately bonding and working on their patterns.

With Rooster tied to the horse trailer in her backyard, 9-year-old Cricket, who just barely reached the top of his head, scratched his forehead under his tuft of brown hair and explained their Saturday morning training on the family acreage about 15 miles south of Gillette on Highway 50. With less than a month to go to fair, they’re focusing a lot on groundwork. Point and swing. Lunging. Training Rooster to flex, so he’s not so stiff in the ring.

“Last year, he wasn’t focused on me,” she said like a seasoned professional as she squinted down at his hooves, which will need some polishing before he’s competition-ready. “I want him to be more smooth and agile and not distracted by his horse friends.”

Apparently, Rooster has an active social life, so when he gets around the other horses at fair, he sometimes forgets about his rider. All their extra bonding time together seems to be paying off. When the pair attended 4-H horse camp in Thermopolis earlier this summer, several people commented to Cricket about how well behaved Rooster was and that Cricket was making riding look very easy.

“One person said that he was the best pony she’d ever saw,” Cricket said with a grin.

The pair have also been doing well in the recent 4-H Progress Shows, where she’s also trying out a couple new lucky outfits. She likes the fancy shirts and bling, personally, though in the competitions where she can’t wear it, she’s content to settle for a Western shirt to coordinate with him.

That shows they’re a team, she explained.

Mom Catrina watched her daughter with a smile as she confidently led Rooster through a couple warm-up exercises. The pair have bonded incredibly well over the past year, she said, and last week when Cricket was walking past his corral Rooster ran over to the fence and whinnied, letting her know he was out there waiting for her.

That her daughter is comfortable riding and training her pony isn’t exactly the easiest experience for her, Catrina admitted. Growing up on her family’s Schlautmann Ranch, she watched her mom have a pretty terrible accident, and afterwards, the family had given up horses. And though she married into a long legacy of serious horsemen and women, with Doug’s sister Connie, the 4-H Horse Superintendent, and her husband JD McGinley, Catrina herself hasn’t overcome the fear to ride and sometimes has a hard time watching her daughter.

“She loves it, though,” Catrina said as she watched Cricket tug on Rooster’s halter, “so I try to keep my anxieties at bay.”

Along with riding Western, Cricket has lately been experimenting with riding English and even has her own saddle, which she pulled out of the horse trailer to demonstrate. Her dad Doug sets up the saddle for her on a fence, so she can practice her balance. Rooster, which was a hand-me-down from Aunt Connie, has only been ridden once English-style, so she’s not sure how he’ll do.

“He’s a little stocky,” Cricket said of Rooster, noting that horses used for riding English tend to be taller and lither, like her younger sister Ginger’s new pony Sparky, who just arrived last night. She eyed Sparky walking slowly around the perimeter of his new corral, learning the lay of the land as a couple of her barn cats darted around blowing dust onto her cowboy boots.

Her cats, Sweetie, Racer, Poofie Face, Jewel, and Dandelion, also factor into her Campbell County Fair 4-H practice as she plans to compete with them too. And her chickens, and a few static projects. Done practicing with Rooster for the day, Cricket was busy chasing down her favorite chicken. The cats dodged in-between her legs while 7-year-old Ginger followed close behind her older sister, biding her time before she gets her chance in the ring.

By: Jen C. Kocher

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